Jokes and the Unconscious: A Graphic Novel
By Daphne Gottlieb and Diane DiMassa
Cleis Press, $17.95
The words in this graphic novel are by performance poet Gottlieb, and they’re fierce and funny. The art is by Hothead Paisan comic creator DiMassa, and it’s vivid and witty. The story, in which prose is perfectly partnered by image, is about 19-year-old Sasha, freaked by the cancer death of her father, and how she deals with her crushing—and, in the sort of angry fiction where daughters don’t always dote on their daddies, unexpectedly moving—grief. The collaboration is as giddily surreal as it is artistically seamless—for example, young Sasha copes partially with her emotional trauma by working in the hospital where her father was both doctor and patient. Familial bereavement, sexual abuse, romantic longing, flirtations and friendships with boys, and the knee-knocking angst of queer love for girls all figure into the story’s mix, a common stew for coming-of-age fiction. And, as befits the title, there are indeed some truly terrible stress-releasing jokes sprinkled throughout—a homage, certainly, to Sigmund Freud’s theory that comic relief mediates discomfort. rt.
Tale of Two Summers
By Brian Sloan
Simon & Schuster, $15.95
Sloan has fun inverting stereotypes in his second young-adult novel, after the hilarious A Really Nice Prom Mess. Chuck, a 15-year-old supremely comfortable in his hetero (though adolescently horny) skin, is a major fan of Broadway musicals who is rooming at summer theater school, with admirable tolerance, with a campy queer boy. His best friend since kindergarten, Hal, almost 16, is a snarky, asocial fag without a scintilla of fashion sense, bored back home in suburbia while studying driver’s ed. The buds stay in touch through entries in a near-daily blog, a device that seems somewhat clunky when instant messaging would be so much more immediate—though the correspondence, often as lengthy as old-fashioned letters, adds dimension to the two boys’ emotional and sexual adventures. By summer’s end, Chuck has found a girl he can more than cuddle with, Hal has been a lot more sexual (with a juicily uninhibited French boy) than most high school libraries are likely to allow—and Sloan has written yet another YA novel with more flair and imagination than most.t.
Butterfly Boy: Memoirs of a Chicano Mariposa
By Rigoberto Gonzalez
University of Wisconsin Press, $24.95
Gonzalez was a chubby, sissy, Chicano son of illiterate, itinerant migrant farm workers. His mother died when he was 12, and his father was at best an occasional presence through his teenage years. Against the odds, he matured into a Guggenheim-winning novelist, poet, and professor, happy in his homosexuality. That’s the uncompromising story recounted here with breathtaking candor. Gonzalez doesn’t shrink from describing the privation, and the emotional and occasionally physical abuse, that he endured as a boy—though he also recalls with reverence the extended family of grandparents and aunts who helped raise him. Nor does he shy away from describing thee emotional eruptions, alcoholic beatings, and cigarette burns he came to expect—even to desire—from his first college lover, an older man; it was a pattern Gonzalez equated with furtive sexual experiences that started before he was 10. . An innate love as a boy for reading and as a young man for writing were the author’s ticket out of a hardscrabble life—as this galvanizing memoir aptly details.
Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Bishop Gene Robinson
By Elizabeth Adams
Soft Skull Press, $14.95
The story of how an obscure Episcopalian cleric from New Hampshire became the first openly gay bishop in Christendom—and the religious furor that ensued—has heretofore been told mostly through disconnected news stories and slanted, shrill homophobic reaction. Hallelujah: this two-pronged biography adds substantial flesh to the spirit of Bishop Gene Robinson’s ascendancy. The “life” section of the bio is brief but thorough enough: Robinson experienced a gentle Kentucky upbringing, was called to the priesthood quite naturally, and excelled in his early parish experiences. . Going to Heaven excels in its details of the circumstances surrounding Robinson’s election as bishop; Adams was an eyewitness participant to many of the church committee meetings that led to his ordination, and interviewed almost every Episcopal principal, pro and con, who weighed in on the electoral process. The wealth of detail may overwhelm lay readers, but anyone with an interest in how an open church conducts even its most controversial affairs will find this book a blessing.
Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians,
By Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons
Basic Books, $29.95
In May 1959, a decade before Stonewall, Los Angeles had its own gay riot. Police entered Cooper’s Doughnuts, an all-night hangout nestled between two gay bars, and demanded ID from the patrons, writer John Rechy among them. The queers—butch hustlers and Capri-pant-clad queens, many black or Latino—fought back, with flying doughnuts, half-filled paper cups, even wooden coffee stirrers. Squad cars were called, rioters were arrested, and the street was cordoned off for a day. “This was perhaps the first homosexual riot in the world,” write the authors. “But the historic moment went unrecorded.” Until now. . Gay L.A., a seamless queer historical collaboration, makes a solid case—through extensive historical research and a catchy accumulation of first-person anecdotes—for Los Angeles as the true pioneer city of American gay liberation. Historians and activists will quibble about that assertion. In the meantime, this history of a city and its queers—from early Hollywood closets to the founding of the Mattachine Society, from the emergence of the Radical Faeries to the creation of West Hollywood—is a first-rank achievement of illuminating scholarship and entertaining writing. ng.
Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo
By Walter L. Williams and Toby Johnson
Lethe Press, $18Cliched passion between the Sensitive White Man and the Noble Savage has been a subset of gay romantic and erotic fiction since Richard Amory’s Song of the Loon set the standard almost five decades ago. The bar has been raised much, much higher by this compassionate collaboration between academic Williams, whose scholarly The Spirit and the Flesh explored sexual diversity in American Indian culture, and novelist Johnson, whose several books blend gay fiction with spiritual wisdom. Their enchanting suspenseful romance, set in the New Mexico Territory shortly after the Civil War, eschews those unfortunate cliches: The young Virginian and the two-spirit native who come to love each other here are fully dimensional characters. The story hews closely to real history, too, as it recounts the callous eviction of the Navajo from their sacred homelands, a shameful era of cultural oppression and brutal discrimination in America. Two Spirits bristles with its angry depiction of regrettable history, but any hint of didactic overload is totally tempered by fine writing.
By Ali Vali
Bold Strokes Books, $15.95
This is a romance. Poppy and Julia want to love each other, but aren’t sure how to go about it. This is also a ghost story. Poppy once loved Carly, and for two years after Carly’s death from breast cancer, withdraws from life, leaving the operation of her wildly successful resort business to her friends and employees. Then Carly comes back as a ghost, solid enough for Poppy to touch, so ephemeral nobody else can see her, and insisting that Poppy get on with her business and her personal life. Carly’s Sound is about a poor-born Cuban-American girl whose pluck and singing skills—she performed in bars to earn enough to buy her first small resort—make her a wealthy and worldly woman. This kind of happy-ending fiction—a fantasy about life as it ought to be—builds a few emotional bumps into its plot, but no real roadblocks. It’s no surprise that passion is indeed possible a second time around, and that Poppy eventually embraces the love that Julia has to offer.fer.
The Lavender Locker Room: 3000 Years of Great Athletes Whose Sexual Orientation Was Different
By Patricia Nell Warren
Wildcat Press, $24.95
The term “locker room” is pretty expansive when it comes to defining this remarkable history of queer athletes. For that matter, “athletes” is itself a noble overstatement. Warren, author of the perennial bestseller The Front Runner, profiles a 15th-century French jouster (that would be Joan of Arc), a 17th- century British horse breeder (Georges Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham), and a 19th-century Brazilian balloonist (Alberto Santos-Dumont). By the time this eclectic collection of historical excavation, biographical insight, and exuberant gay liberation moves into the 20th century, the subjects are more familiar: golfing “Amazon” Babe Didrickson Zaharias, tennis great Bill Tilden, marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, and football player David Kopay; other chapters explore fencing, ice skating, boxing, and baseball. Warren’s essays are collected from a series written for Outsports.com, but appear here greatly expanded and generously footnoted. The Lavender Locker Room is a wonderfully comprehensive account of LGBT people in sports—it’s Warren’s first nonfiction book, after eight novels, but every bit as enthralling as her fiction has been for generations of gay readers..
Footnotes:Books to watch out for by (and about) venerable homosexuals: “Clouds and Eclipses,” a long-lost story by novelist and polemicist Gore Vidal, based on the childhood of his friend Tennessee Williams, appears in print for the first time in Clouds and Eclipses, out recently from Carroll & Graf; seven other stories in the collection first appeared in A Thirsty Evil, a 1956 volume most recently published by Gay Sunshine Press 20 years ago... Also recently available from Carroll & Graf: the paper edition of Edward Albee’s Stretching My Mind, collecting five decades of the author’s essays and interviews, including selections drawn from Albee’s recent private papers... The sixth in composer and diarist Ned Rorem’s series of chatty, catty, tell-all diaries continues with the paper edition of Facing the Night: A Diary (1999-2005) and Musical Writings, coming from Shoemaker & Hoard in December... And to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, City Lights Publishers is releasing Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression, edited by Bill Morgan and chronicling the story of editing, publishing, and defending the landmark poem; the November title includes excerpts from the trial that tried to censor the book, and letters by Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and others discussing obscenity.
Alison Bechdel’s Memoir about growing up with a closeted gay father, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, was one of the five nominees for a Quill Award as—-oddly—-a “graphic novel,” one of 20 categories under consideration; the only other queer nominee, among 100 books, was Mary Oliver, in poetry, for New and Selected Poems: Volume Two. The two-year-old Quills are selected by an online vote of readers—-they “pair a populist sensibility with Hollywood-style glitz,” according to the organizers, “and have become the first literary prizes to reflect the tastes of the group that matters most in publishing: readers.” Winners were announced in New York on Oct. 10, and the ceremony will be broadcast Oct. 28 on MSNBC.
Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-’70s.